Right-wing and pro-gun media selectively highlight recent gun violence incidents to dismiss calls to “defund the police”

Right-wing and pro-gun media selectively highlighted shootings over Father’s Day weekend to dismiss calls to reform the police, suggesting such efforts would result in more violence, despite no evidence of a correlation between the two.

Following the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Rayshard Brooks by police around the country, calls to “defund the police” and other reforms have increased amid nationwide protests against racism and police brutality. Proposed defunding policies have centered around “shrinking the scope of police responsibilities and shifting most of what government does to keep us safe to entities that are better equipped to meet that need,” including mental health care, violence interruption, and community mediation programs.

From June 20 until June 21, multiple mass shootings, including drive-by shootings, took place across the country at public gatherings and in private residences. On June 20, four people in New York City were shot near a park in the Bronx, and another four people were shot “during some type of large car gathering” in Buffalo, New York, early the next morning. In Minneapolis, 12 people were shot, one fatally, in the city’s Uptown neighborhood on June 21. Chicago also saw its most violent weekend this year as 104 people were shot, 14 fatally, between Friday evening and early Monday morning.

These shootings occurred as many cities are loosening social distancing and shelter-in-place orders. Chicago, Minneapolis, and Austin, Texas, moved into phase three of reopening in early June, while Buffalo and Detroit began reopening businesses in the second half of the month. 

Conservative and pro-gun media ignored the bulk of these shootings, covering only Chicago, Minneapolis, and New York City to claim this is the inevitable result of “defunding the police.” But data shows that police departments spend very little percentage of their time responding to calls about violent crimes, and no city -- including those where the shootings occurred -- has dismantled its police department at this point. But these media figures still suggested that there’s more violence to come if police reforms are enacted:

  • In a June 21 article, Breitbart pro-gun writer AWR Hawkins attributed the shootings in New York City to the police department’s decision to disband an anti-crime unit of plainclothes officers.
  • In a June 21 article, Bearing Arms’ Cam Edwards covered the gun violence in New York City and across the state before slamming Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s commitment to gun safety laws and complaining that “officials are still doubling down on … more gun control and fewer police officers on the street."
  • During the June 22 edition of Fox News’ The Five, co-host Jesse Watters opened the show decrying, “Liberal cities" that he said are "seeing a surge in violence this weekend while the left continues to call for defunding police.” Watters referenced the weekend shootings in New York City, Minneapolis, Chicago, and Seattle before saying, “This is the sad consequence of what happens when the ‘defund the police’ movement takes hold and cops pull back.”
  • During the June 22 edition of America’s Newsroom, Fox News contributor Byron York said the level of violence in Chicago and other cities requires “more police” on the street and added that “defunding the police is exactly the opposite” of what the country should be doing.
  • In a June 22 article about Chicago’s weekend gun violence for pro-gun website The Truth About Guns, John Boch wrote that “cops have embraced the ‘stay fetal’ method of law enforcement” amid calls to “defund the police,” and questioned whether this would be the new normal if the policy “gains traction among the Democrats who rule America’s biggest cities.”
  • In a June 23 article for Bearing Arms, Edwards briefly mentioned the Minneapolis mass shooting while covering the amount of gun violence in the city over the last month. Edwards criticized the city council’s push to disband their police department, writing: “They need a law enforcement agency empowered to make arrests, and a criminal justice system that will treat violence seriously. You can’t have that if your police department’s been abolished and replaced with social workers, no matter how hard-working and well-meaning they might be.”
  • In a June 23 Federalist article, conservative radio host Buck Sexton blamed the shootings in New York City on “Democrats’ anti-cop insanity.” Sexton wrote that “violent crime is ruining the lives of countless New Yorkers. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, will die violent deaths in the years ahead — all because the Democratic Party insists on forgetting the lessons about law and order this city learned the hard way.”

In actuality, police departments spend a very small amount of time responding to violent crime calls. According to The New York Times, a “handful of cities post data online showing how their police departments spend their time” and in the three cities analyzed, responding to violent crime calls made up just 4% of the officers’ shifts on average, while responding to noncriminal calls made up between 32-37%.

Additionally, none of the cities where the shootings occurred has disbanded its police department. In Minneapolis, the city council has voted with a veto-proof majority to do so, though it has not yet gone into effect and the city government has passed other policing reforms in the meantime. Both Portland, Oregon, and San Leandro, California, reallocated funds away from their police departments, while most other changes have been to specific policies -- banning chokeholds and no-knock warrants, for example.

Despite conservative media's best efforts, their narrative that reforming police departments will result in skyrocketing violence just does not square with the reality that the current surge in gun violence is taking place despite existing police policies. It also ignores the minimal amount of time police currently spend responding to violent crime calls compared to noncriminal responses.